Pizza and Post-it Notes are the two essential components for one of Philadelphia’s most cherished business ventures, Rosa’s Fresh Pizza.
As Mason Wartman, owner of Rosa's Fresh Pizza, set up for his event on Wednesday night, students poured into a Huntsman Hall room where they were treated to fresh pizza and a talk on what Wartman called a “pay-it-forward giving in a for-profit business.” Wharton Undergraduate Giving Society hosted Wartman to kickstart Giving Month on campus because he promotes a connection between business and philanthropy at his restaurant, Rosa's Fresh Pizza. The restaurant allows patrons to pre-purchase $1 pizza slices for homeless visitors in need of a warm meal.
A Philadelphia native, Wartman got his start on Wall Street as a researcher in commercial banking. After coming to the conclusion that the work was too repetitive, Wartman said he decided to continue on another path by leaving Manhattan and returning to his hometown with a fresh perspective and drive to open up a meaningful business of his own.
With a finance degree from Babson College and a family background in sales, Wartman decided to open a pizza restaurant.
Inspired by the cheap and efficient pizza storefronts scattered on the streets of New York City, Wartman opened Rosa’s Fresh Pizza on 25 S. 11th Street in December 2013. To promote his charitable model to the public, Wartman implemented his now famous Post-it Note wall — a space where customers can write motivational sayings to those in need who walk into Rosa’s for a place to mingle and eat.
After about nine months of diligence and local press coverage, Wartman and his team were approached by The Ellen Show about a segment on the compassionate nature of the business. Following the episode airing, business boomed like never before, Wartman said.
“I heard about Rosa's Fresh Pizza from The Ellen Show a few months ago,” WUGS Vice President of Giving Month and College and Wharton sophomore Daphne Fong said. “So when I became Vice President, I immediately told my committee that we needed to bring Mason in. We believe that his business is an inspiration for all of us, showing us that it's possible to run a for-profit business and still have a positive, tangible impact on the community."
This was the first of five events organized by the Wharton Undergraduate Giving Society this February aimed at students interested in the intersections and possibilities between business and philanthropy.
“I really like giving back to my community," Engineering senior Taylor Concannon said. "I love seeing companies that are doing that, especially in a city like Philadelphia where there are so many who need help. It’s great to see people helping others while still living their lives and showing that you can actually make a career that involves helping others.”
Wartman attributed the success of his company to numerous viral media reports on his restaurant and to resulting commercial partnerships with companies such as Citi Bank and Post-It. He also said that there is transparency in how donations are utilized and that his model makes it easy for anyone to participate, no matter their financial means.
But the first few months of business were grueling for Wartman, he said. His initial struggles eventually led him to become even more appreciative of the restaurant’s local impact: feeding 200 homeless visitors on a daily basis and inspiring local giving.
“We had a large homeless audience counting on us to come in, turn the lights on and make pizza,” Wartman said. “There is no substitute for experience, no easy way to acquire it. I’m glad I didn’t quit.”
Fong said she hoped that Wartman's mission made an impact on the business-oriented students who attended his talk.
“Mason showed us that you can improve someone's life with even $1,” she said.